Today is my birthday. Since I’m turning twenty-six, I decided to list twenty-six of my favourite games and tell you why I love them. It wasn’t an easy task: I had almost fifty games on my shortlist when all was said and done, and paring it down didn’t prove to be a simple matter of elimination. It took a couple of days to arrive at twenty-six, though so many didn’t make the cut: Fallout 4, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Pokémon Sapphire. I suppose you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs though, right?
So off we go! For convenience I have split the list into two, stay tuned for part 2 (and thanks to the random number generator I used to generate the order!).
- Detroit: Become Human
I genuinely don’t believe I’ve ever been quite as emotionally destroyed by any form of media as I was by Detroit. I’ve always been one to become invested in an intense narrative, but this was something else. The story this game tells is a heavy-handed one, but not in a poorly-executed way. It’s a story that’s meant to rip out your heart and make you despair, spurred on by the outstanding performances of its stellar cast. The scariest part is that this is a glimpse into a future which isn’t wholly unrealistic, as we as a society move towards greater automation of the menial workforce. It may not break any ground in terms of gameplay mechanics but for me it doesn’t have to. As strange as it sounds, this game’s ability to have me weeping indiscriminately is more than enough for me to love it unconditionally.
Currently the digital deluxe edition of Detroit: Become Human is free on PS Plus, so definitely download it if you haven’t already! This edition also includes the digital soundtrack and artbook, themes and avatars and also the PS4 remaster of Heavy Rain.
- The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +
As a kid who started her schooling in a Roman Catholic primary I’ve known the biblical story upon which this game is based from an early age. What the story doesn’t tell you is that Isaac was forced to traverse through procedurally-generated dungeons in his basement, fighting all manner of grotesque horrors with nothing but his tears, before finally facing his mother at the end of it all (if you even survive that long). It’s a game that’s punishingly difficult but still unrelentingly fun, due to its easy-to-grasp control scheme and simple, but gross, visuals. It is a lottery as to whether the dungeon layout and the items spawned will be beneficial but when they are, and you’re bulldozing your disgusting foes with ease, there’s no sense of achievement quite like it.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
Whilst I won’t deny that Arkham City is the superior game in terms of gameplay – especially in the fluidity of the combat – it’s the first title of Rocksteady’s trilogy that has the superior storyline, atmosphere and setting. Arkham Island itself is eerie and foreboding, absolutely the last place you’d want to be sent for psychiatric care, and not just because The Joker set the straitjacketed lunatics from the Penitentiary loose from their cells. Danger lurks around every corner, usually in the form of Joker’s goons ready to try and beat you to a pulp – it never ends well for them. Asylum does an impeccable job at making you feel like the Batman, whether you’re gliding silently through the air to kick a thug in the head or using gadgets to find your way out of a jam. It scratches the itch that lives within us all: the opportunity to be a totally badass superhero for just one night, and it does that perfectly.
- Stardew Valley
When life gets me down, when adult responsibilities are overwhelming and when everything is just a little bit crud, I will fire up my Switch and launch Stardew Valley. It’s such a welcome change of pace, inhabiting a world where the most pressing concern is ensuring I milk my cows and get to the store in good time to restock my supply of kale seeds. There’s something so incredibly satisfying about cultivating your virtual farm, catching plenty of fish from the pier and maybe finding that special someone to marry. If only it really was that easy to breeze through life without a care, worrying about nothing but which town inhabitant I want to partner me at the annual Flower Dance. The way I see it is this: does it really matter that my own life might be falling apart when Dragon Roost Farm is thriving?
- Saints Row IV: Reelected
What’s not to love about a game wherein the opening mission involves the player disarming a nuclear missile in midair before crashing through the roof of the Oval Office and landing in the chair behind the POTUS’ desk, all to the tune of the timeless classic I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing? This game is utterly over-the-top and ridiculous, and that’s what makes it such a joy to play. Honestly, this made the list because it’s just a game that’s complete, unadulterated fun, a game in which the primary objective is to be a massive troll and mess with as many people, or aliens, as possible. With the iconic Dubstep Gun having your NPCs dancing in the street (quite literally) and the alien police turning up to shoot you if you get too rowdy, there’s nothing about this game that isn’t stupid and dumb, and that’s exactly why it’s earned a permanent place in my heart.
- South Park: The Stick of Truth
This is a game I didn’t expect to like. I like my fair share of gross, un-PC and offensive humour but I often find South Park a little too crude for my tastes. ‘Charming’ isn’t a term I’d usually associate with the show, but The Stick of Truth is just that, unerringly charming and packed full of sweet nostalgia. At its heart it’s a game about little kids playing make-believe in their gardens, and it’s impossible not to sit and remember the times that we did the very same as children. Of course, there is also a sequence that takes place exclusively up Mr Slave’s butt because it is still South Park after all. But the simple joy of winning a fight against kids dressed as elves using an axe made from a stop sign tied to a pool cue, healing yourself with crisps and being home in time for bed is innocently joyous, and reminds us all of a much simpler time of life.
RiME holds the honour of being the very first game I ever reviewed. At the time, I thought it was a stunning and moving experience with a wonderfully emotive soundtrack, and whilst it definitely tugged at my heartstrings, it didn’t completely resonate with me. All of that praise is still true of course, but it’s also a deeply personal experience that can be altered by life experience, a story of loss and grief with a fair few gut punches for good measure. It’s always been a game I’ve loved based on the music and the visuals, and its relative simplicity: there is no dialogue, no walls of text giving you tips on what to do or how to play. Instead, you learn by exploration and a degree of trial and error. But playing it again after a recent death in the family is when I truly understood the story’s meaning, and what affirmed my love for it even more. It’s deeply bittersweet, but also a tool for healing, a way of ensuring we understand that grief is a process we all need to face, but as with all things it has an end if we can bring ourselves to let go.
- Thimbleweed Park
There were many point-and-clicks that could’ve made the list, such as the equally as zany and hilarious Day of the Tentacle. Ultimately, what won Thimbleweed a place on this list was how self-aware it is. It’s packed to the rafters with every trope and genre in-joke imaginable; my personal favourite is the specks of dust one can collect, and how characters will wonder why on earth they’re picking them up. It’s also wonderfully mysterious: the town of Thimbleweed Park is an unsettling place to be, but definitely not because the coroner, the sheriff and the hotel manager are absolutely not the same person (a-who). Thimbleweed is both a love-letter and a gentle spoof of an era-defining genre, a real nostalgia trip for those of us who grew up playing point-and-click adventure games but also a joy for newer players as well.
Possibly one of the best games ever made, Bioshock ticks all the right boxes. Is it in a creepy, abandoned or isolated setting? Well, the city of Rapture is all of those things combined. Is it dark and twisted? Definitely! Does it involve awesome supernatural powers that I wish I possessed? Absolutely, because I have a list of people I would gladly set ablaze with the Incinerate plasmid. The final reveal was spoiled for me long before I got to actually play it – the hazard of being late into gaming – but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to play the first time or the fiftieth. This game is dark and oppressive, filled with tension at every turn. Rapture is a beautiful and broken city, littered with the shadows of scientific achievement and the stench of death. It offers a delightfully visceral experience of the ruins of a lawless society, all with the ability to electrocute an enemy with a flick of the fingers, or summon a swarm of bees to attack them for you. Honestly, what’s not to love about that?
From the horrific to the harebrained, we jump into the utterly ridiculous kitchens of Overcooked. Much like Bioshock this game includes fire, although this time it’s absolutely not intentional. This is because normally, frying a burger patty does not present much of a culinary challenge. Then again, most people aren’t trying to do it in a kitchen that consists of two lorry trailers that periodically separate, leaving the frying pans on one side and the chef on the other. It’s a game best enjoyed with friends, so you can cry with laughter together as you throw tomatoes around the place and yell, “But it was your job to get the fire extinguisher!”
- The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
If I was to cite any game as making me into a gamer, it would be this one. It’s the first game I ever really got absorbed into and to date my favourite entry in the Zelda franchise (remember the name of my Stardew farm?). There is so much to love about this game, from the cel-shaded graphics to the grandiose music as you sail the King of Red Lions across the sea in pursuit of your kidnapped sister. I was captivated from the first moment I played it; Outset Island was a tranquil haven I was sad to leave as I embarked on my great adventure but, much like Link, I soon found my stride as the mighty hero foretold in all the legends, even if that means we can’t also forget that bloody Tingle exists.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man
By now I genuinely believe that Spider-Man surpasses Arkham Asylum for the title of ‘best superhero game ever made’. It’s not unreasonable to call this game a complete masterpiece. Everything about it is superb; the story is superbly written and performed, swinging around Manhattan feels incredible and the combat is wonderfully slick and satisfying. This is one of the best incarnations of both Peter Parker and Spidey, right down to his flippant quips and trademark wit. There is truly nothing better than swooping in on a break-in in progress, sticking a brute of a thug upside down to the nearest wall and shooting him the finger guns as you swagger away, sirens in the distance.
- Portal 2
This one should’ve been obvious, given the name of this website. I love Portal as a universe for many reasons, though it’s difficult to single out any particular one. Is it because the portal gun is the coolest piece of tech ever? Or is it because the Aperture Science facility is run by the most passive-aggressive operating system on the planet? Perhaps it’s down to the fact that Aperture saw fit to name something as simple as a pressure pad the ‘Heavy-Duty Super Colliding Super Button’. Regardless of what the specific reason is, Portal 2 is a game I can come back to time and time again and never feel bored playing. I never tire of the test chambers; I never tire of GLaDOS’ wit. I never tire of Stephen Merchant’s wonderful portrayal of idiotic Wheatley. And most of all, I never tire of listening to Cave Johnson explain that for one particular test, subjects need to remember which skin is theirs so they can be stitched back into it at the end.
We’ve reached the end of part one! As I said, watch this space for part two as I continue to gush about my favourite games for no other reason than because I CAN!